Independence on wheels: iCan Bike Camp offers freedom for kids with disabilities

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Most people remember that feeling of freedom and accomplishment that comes from learning to ride a bike.

The Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin is giving that opportunity to kids with disabilities. It's called the "I Can Bike Camp."

Volunteers help the kids learn to ride in just a week.

"Ok, start peddling strong," volunteer Ronn Blaha said as he helps a rider take off.

Blaha is a coach through and through. He gives advice.

"Focus on the road-us. Focus on the road-us. That's my little poem," he said to another camper, laughing at his own rhyme.

He's also ready with encouragement.

"You're doing awesome," he yelled.

He's a pretty good cheerleader, too.

"Make 'em run, Lucas, make 'em run," he exclaimed.

It's commitment Chris Krasovich with the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin noticed right away.

"He is here hour after hour, day after day," Krasovich said.

For the last three years, Blaha has brought his teaching skills to the camp.

"Just fell in love with it right away," he said.

It's been an emotional experience to help these kids learn to ride a bike.

"One of the kids that I worked with this summer, as he was riding around, and he said to his mom who was watching, 'I'm doing it mom, I'm doing it!' And she replied back with,' I know you are, honey,' and of course the tears," he said, motioning to his face.

Then there are the riders like Katherine, who are inspired to break into song.

"Let it go, let it go," she belted out.

"They see the opportunity to be able to ride a bike as just being at that next level that they see other people doing," Blaha said of the accomplishment.

The skill is making an impact not only on the lives of the kids, but also on their parents.

"I'm one of those parents," Krasovich said. "So, for me, just to recognize this is a space for my child to step in and take ownership and have that freedom, that sense of accomplishment is huge."

Krasovish said 80% of the kids do learn to ride during the five-day camp.

"Those smiles take you miles," she said. "The fact that we see these kiddos achieve this tremendous goal, and leave with this newfound independence, is just fantastic."

How the volunteers and instructors do it is impressive.

"Keeps them confident, keeps them motivated. Keeps them stable," said bike tech Garrett Smith, showing the adaptive bikes they use.

Smith works for the organization I Can Shine, which partners with the Autism Society to put on the camp.

"As a rider progresses, they start on a very stable, secure roller, and as they progress, the rollers get more and more tapered," he explained.

The particular day we visited the camp, it was "Launch Wednesday," a day when many of the kids are ready to try it all by themselves.

"My favorite day is when we see our first rider get up on two wheels. Seeing the success, the courage and the strength of these kids is the greatest thing in the world for me. There's nowhere I'd rather be than at bike camp," Smith said.

Blaha runs alongside the kids, every step of the way. He's inspired by them for so many reasons.

"For some of them, it's physical activity they might not otherwise do. It gives them a sense of independence," he said. "They can ride around their neighborhood. For some of them, it's going to be the transportation that they take to a job."

Blaha doesn't do it alone. He said he's constantly recruiting new volunteers. He's encouraged his family members and students from Brookfield Central High School, where he's a teacher and coach, to also volunteer.

He has one simple reason.

"I tell them when I'm trying to recruit volunteers, that you get very few opportunities to change a life, and this is an opportunity you have to change a life, and that it's going to change your own life at the same time," he said.

For more information on the camp and how you can help, visit https://www.assew.org/.

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